Overpass collapses in Oakland, traffic improves

I’d wait a few weeks before drawing any firm conclusions about whether the closure of part of Oakland, California’s “MacArthur Maze” thanks to a fiery tanker-truck crash will have lasting positive effects on local traffic, but local experts sure do seem surprised by how smoothly everything has gone.

“It doesn’t seem like travel times were getting worse; in fact, in some cases, they actually seemed to be getting better,” said Karl Petty, an engineer who heads the company.

Petty said a small percentage of drivers staying off the roads can make a huge difference in lowering traffic congestion — not just at the freeway collapse site, but around the region. This week’s changes by a few drivers along key routes seemed to make a big difference, according Caltrans data from thousands of buried freeway sensors.

On Monday and Tuesday, the number of miles traveled by Bay Area drivers dropped very little — about 1.7 percent, according to state traffic data. But along the affected routes the decreases were much higher.

Usually on weekday mornings, about 30,000 cars pass along the section of Interstate 580 going toward the MacArthur Maze. That westbound stretch is unaffected by the freeway collapse. On Monday morning, nearly 7,000 fewer cars passed through that stretch — a drop of 22 percent. The volumes dropped by 15 percent on Tuesday and 11 percent on Wednesday, according to data from Caltrans’ Freeway Performance Management System.

“Getting rid of 10 percent of the traffic can totally eliminate the congestion,” Petty said.

It seems that rather than risk traffic chaos in one of the busiest traffic interchanges in the United States, a lot of people who usually drive were parking their cars and taking public transit, or possibly finding longer and less congested routes to get where they’re going. The San Francisco Chronicle reports record ridership on the Bay area’s rapid-transit system.

Jane Jacobs disciples have argued for years that widening one particularly congested road or interchange usually solves the problem there while worsening traffic everywhere else — all the roads feeding into and fed by that particularly troublesome spot. If this pattern holds up, there’ll be some extraordinarily strong proof of the intuitive theory.

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One response to “Overpass collapses in Oakland, traffic improves

  1. All I have to say is ‘cool’

    Man, people who complain about LA traffic haven’t seen SF.

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